White House doesn’t have ‘figure on costs’ of Africa trip

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the president's birthplace.

President Barack Obama makes the first extended trip to Africa of his presidency next week—but he won't be stopping in his ancestral homeland.

Obama's weeklong trip—June 26-July 3—which he's taking with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia, as well as with members of his economic and trade team, is to signal America's interest in trade, democracy and economic development in Africa. He will visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

"We see Africa as one of the most important emerging regions in the world," deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call Friday. He added that the administration sees "growing economic opportunities [in the continent] for increased trade and investment" by U.S. businesses.

The trip will also focus on "democracy and democratic institution-building," Rhodes said.

Rhodes acknowledged the president's "deep personal and familial connections" to Kenya and noted that Obama has visited the country as a private citizen and as a senator. But Rhodes said it "wasn’t the best time for the president to travel to Kenya" given the recent election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto, who both face charges of crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

The trip has drawn some controversy at home related to its projected costs, which have varied in multiple news reports.

Rhodes said on Friday the White House can't confirm the cost because it's not being determined by the White House.

"We don't have the exact figure on costs—frankly we don't own or control those numbers," he said. "The security requirements, which make up the bulk of the cost, are determined by the Secret Service, and they don't publicly release the breakdown of the costs for these types of trips." Rhodes added that the Secret Service and White House military office determine the security costs for overseas trips of this nature.

Obama will pay tribute to former South African President and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela while in Africa, and he has planned a visit to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.

But as for a visit with the former president, Rhodes confirmed on Friday that the White House will allow the Mandela family to lead on that front due to Mandela's health issues. He is currently hospitalized with a lung infection.

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